FA Cup Third Round: Best Bets For 1/7 & 1/8 Matches

With the post-World Cup return of club football has come the return of the oldest national football competition in the World, as well as one of the biggest; we’ve reached the third round proper of the FA Cup. This round is particularly notable because it will see the entrance of the 20 Premier League clubs, as well as the 20 EFL Championship clubs, and of course the lower-division sides who have worked their way up through various qualifying rounds. Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing matches and make some picks, starting with some matchups between top-tier sides.

Prem vs. Prem Showdowns

Let’s start with the elephant in the room; everyone takes note when two “big six” Prem sides are drawn together this early in the competition, and the pairing of Manchester City and Chelsea is no exception. There’s also an added wrinkle of intrigue, which is that these two sides will have just played in the Prem on Thursday (the FA Cup fixture is Sunday). While the league match is at Chelsea’s home ground, this one will see City as the hosts. Unshockingly, City are big favorites, but how easy will it really be for the sky blues to play consecutive matches against the same opponent in such short order? They could rotate and potentially suffer in that way, or they could run out the same lineup and give Chelsea the chance to adjust. For these reasons, while this isn’t necessarily my projection, I think that if you want to bet this game, Chelsea or Draw Double Chance at +165 is pretty solid value.

Going down the table just a bit, we find the matchup between Brentford and West Ham, two Prem sides who have experienced very different seasons thus far. After making a push for the European places last season, the Hammers are currently only safe from relegation due to goal difference. Meanwhile, Brentford are making a splash this season; they’re in the top half of the table, and have beaten both major Manchester clubs as well as Liverpool, and they’ve drawn with Spurs and Chelsea. While not as notable of a result in the big picture, the Bees did take on West Ham just before the New Year, and walked away with a 2-0 road win. This time, they’ll be at home, and I love the value of Brentford +145 to win in regulation in a matchup with puzzlingly-even odds

Finally, let’s get into the matchup between mid-table Crystal Palace, and dead-last Southampton, who just participated in Nottingham Forest’s first Premier League road win in over two decades. These two teams also did play this season, albeit back in October, and that match resulted in a 1-0 home win for Palace. This one’s pretty simple to me; Palace have shown an ability to score a few goals, particularly against weaker competition, and The Saints have allowed nearly as many goals as anyone in England’s top league this season. At just about even money, Crystal Palace -105 to win in regulation is my pick for this game, and one of my favorite wagers of the round.

Prem Sides Playing Down

The first matchup between a Prem team and a lower-tier side that I’d like to look at features a pair of clubs who were in the same division just a year ago. Newly-promoted Nottingham Forest will visit EFL Championship side Blackpool, a matchup we saw twice last season in England’s second tier. How did those go? Both were victories for Forest, one of which was a 4-1 thumping at Blackpool. Moreover, Forest are in a little spurt of pretty decent form of late; they just fought back from an early deficit to draw with Chelsea, and finally picked up their first road win of the season with a nice 1-0 victory over Chelsea. Forest may be fighting relegation in the Prem, but Blackpool are doing the same in the next tier down; Nottingham Forest -150 to win in regulation isn’t tremendous value as a standalone pick, but it could be a good parlay leg along with some fairly safe bets.

In a similar vein, I’d like to take a look at lower-table Prem side Leeds United, who are taking on relegation-threatened Championship club Cardiff City. Leeds play a really fun-to-watch, open style of football, and this game is a great one to throw on the TV if you’re able. They’ve shown the ability to put up goals; they played consecutive 4-3 matches earlier this year, one against Bournemouth and the other against Spurs, one win and one loss. They’ve also beaten both Liverpool and Chelsea this season, so they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with some of the better clubs in the country; I don’t see them failing to score against Cardiff, nor do I see The Bluebirds ripping them for 3 or 4 goals the way a top Prem side might, so Leeds -125 to win in regulation is my pick for this match.

EFL Championship Matches

It almost feels like the whole Championship has been drawn against each other, which makes for some really even and potentially entertaining matches. Let’s start by taking a look at the matchup between Watford, who are currently sitting inside of the promotion playoff spots on the table, and Reading, who are just about in the middle of the league. This matchup is seen by Vegas as being incredibly even; Reading are “favored” at +155, while Watford’s line is just +160. It’s seen as basically a dead heat, despite the fact that Watford are much higher on the table, and also beat Reading 2-0 in early November. Perhaps there’s a measure of home field advantage for Reading in this one, but they’re in pretty rough form; I’m all over Watford +160 to win in regulation as a standalone bet, or Watford or Draw Double Chance at -210 as parlay fodder.

Reading and Watford are separated by 9 places, but just 4 points in a crowded Championship table. Now let’s get into a match that may seem closer, as the two teams are in second and sixth place, but it’s an instance where looks are deceiving; second-place Sheffield United is 12 points ahead of Millwall down in sixth, while there’s also a goal-differential gap of 15 between the two sides. Sheffield have been the better side in most respects, as they look to head back to the Prem. They also knocked off Millwall 2-0 in a league meeting earlier this season, although that was back in August, and it was a home match while this meeting will be at Milwall’s stadium. Nonetheless, the Vegas line is way closer than it should be; I’m a big fan of Sheffield United +145 to win in regulation.

Bristol and Swansea are another pair of sides who sit relatively close to one another on the table, at 19th and 15th, respectively, but the closeness is less deceptive; they’re separated by 6 points, but a goal difference of just 3. Vegas recognizes this closeness; Swansea are favored at +140, but Bristol comes right behind at +180. The league match played in late October at Bristol’s home field doesn’t help us separate these teams either; the two sides played to a 1-1 draw. With teams this even, I don’t love picking a winner, and in a tournament that fairly severely punishes draws (with a replay that must be fit into an already-packed fixture schedule) I won’t advise you to pick the draw either. Instead, for these two sides who both score more than a goal per match and will both be gunning for the win, I’m recommending the wager of Both Teams to Score No Draw at +180.

Here’s an interesting one- Norwich are currently in 11th place in the Championship, while Blackburn sit all the way up in third, but Norwich are actually minus-level favorites, at -120. This could be due to any one or more of a couple of factors, including the fact that Norwich actually have a better goal difference than Blackburn, or something as simple as better name recognition due to their more-recent stint in the Premier League. But, Blackburn actually won the road fixture at Norwich by a score of 2-0 just in mid-December, and The Canaries have won just one of their past 6 league matches- four of the other five results were losses. I’m going to go against the grain here, and side with Blackburn, with the slight hedge of Blackburn or Draw Double Chance at -120.

Lastly, we come to 7th-place Luton Town who host a Wigan side who are not only in dead last in the league, but have played an extra game compared to the next team above them, and have the league’s worst goal difference (-20) by an incredible margin compared to the next-worst figure (-11). The line is perhaps drawn closer due to a Wigan win at Luton’s home ground earlier this season, but that was back in early September, back when Wigan were playing decent football. Since then, they’ve completely fallen apart and they’ve lost 10 of their last 13 matches in the league after dropping just 1 of their first 8. Don’t overthink this one; pick the team that’s won its past three league games and bet on Luton Town -125 to win in regulation.

Lower-Division Matches

Everyone’s favorite fifth-tier club, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s Wrexham AFC has made the third round proper, and along with two of their National League counterparts, they’re tied as the lowest-league club to make it this far. Due to their sudden worldwide notoriety, they probably have slightly inflated odds at +280 against mid-table Championship side Coventry- it’s not often that you see odds that close in a match featuring a three-tier gap. But, Red Dragons forward Paul Mullin is the top scorer in the competition, so there’s something to watch there; clearly his team can find goals. Considering I don’t think they’ll win, but I do think they can make it a match, I’m going to once again call on my new favorite wager, Both Teams to Score No Draw at +150, although for a slightly simpler, perhaps safer bet, I do think that Coventry -125 to win in regulation is fairly solid value.

In an interesting matchup between EFL League One (third-tier) sides Derby and Barnsley, we have a pair of opponents who are really close in the table- they currently sit in fourth and sixth respectively, and are separated by just a point. So why is Derby such a heavy favorite at -105? It comes down to a handful of things, by my estimation. Firstly, a factor that can alter public wagering and thus the line, Derby is simply the bigger brand, as they’ve been in the Prem about ten years more recently than Barnsley’s last stint. Furthermore, in addition to their small advantage on the table, Derby are the home side, have a better goal differential (16 vs. 9), and won the head to head fixture this season. Taken individually, no one of them is a particularly big deal, but they do add up when each little thing favors the same side. For all of these reasons, I will take the initially-surprising line of Derby -105 to win in regulation.

Interestingly enough, two fourth-division sides were drawn together in this round, meaning that the winner has a solid chance at being the lowest-tier side remaining when the following round takes place. Those sides are Walsall, who are currently in ninth place in the EFL League Two table, and Stockport who are down in 13th. Once again, for a matchup that seems equitable at a glance, we have a pretty decent favorite; Stockport’s line is set at -150, while it’s +370 for Walsall, who again, are higher in the table. As has been the case before, Stockport do have the higher goal difference, which is a solid indicator, but cannot entirely account for the disparity between the two sides’ odds. Most likely, the rest of the advantage is coming from the fact that Stockport are the home side, and perhaps more significantly, they just picked up a 2-0 head-to-head win on Walsall’s home field just about a week ago. That being said, in the scheme of things, these sides are evenly matched; for a crazy coincidence of a matchup, I’m going to pick what may seem like a crazy result in a knockout tournament; Draw at +250. These two increasingly-familiar opponents will become even more so, as they’re forced into a third-round replay.

All odds in this article are via DraftKings

From starting my own blog in Middle School, to working on a friend’s in college, and finally joining the Lineups team this year, I’ve been writing about sports for over a decade and betting on them as long as I’ve been legally able. I graduated from the University of Michigan last year, where I took sports journalism classes alongside my business major. Having played and watched sports for almost my whole life, I aim to provide insight and entertainment, as well as profitable picks, in my writing about professional and collegiate leagues.

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